Congress needs to put our money where our mouth is on STEM

In his recent op-ed for The Hill (“STEM education: Not just for the next Neil Armstrong,” Sept. 20), Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) lays out the importance of inspiring our nation’s next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts early on. 

I could not agree more. We need to inspire and challenge our nation’s young people to innovate the future. 

We know that the tech sector is creating the jobs of today and tomorrow, yet too many American students do not have the necessary skills to fill them. The Level Playing Field Institute estimates that by 2020, 1.4 million new tech jobs will be created. But 70 percent of these good-paying jobs will go unfilled because our students do not have the necessary skills to succeed in them. 

Unfortunately, we’ve been losing ground and leadership for years. Since 1992, the U.S. has fallen from second to tenth in overall research and development, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Fewer than a quarter of our nation’s high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses. 

We can and must to do better, especially for girls and students of color. 

Right now, 22 percent of AP computer science students are girls and only 13 percent are African-American or Latino. Clearly, our computer science courses, from pre-K to AP, are skipping over many of our nation’s best and brightest. 

It’s time for Congress to put our money where our mouth is. 

Congress cannot wait any longer. We are already falling behind. The time is now to make critical investments in our students and computer science education. We need to start early and keep students engaged throughout their educational career. 

On Wednesday, I introduced the Computer Science for All Act to authorize critical funding to ensure that our nation’s young people are ready and able to out-compete and succeed in the jobs of the 21st century. From our economy to our national security, Congress cannot ignore the vital need to expand STEM education. Our young people need more than words of encouragement — Congress needs to invest in them and their futures.

From Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Washington, D.C.

Read the original at The Hill